How to view RAW Security Camera DVR Video Files (.264)
An updated guide is now available!
So you have your fancy new security DVR setup to find out who’s cats have been poopin’ in your garden. You’ve caught the culprit and need to send the clip to the FBI (Feline Bureau of Investigation) and all is going great until you try to deliver the footage. You have it on your USB thumb drive, but it’s this funky file with a long name and a .264 extension. Nothing plays it, not even the mirage-ware* that came with the DVR.
You could spend an evening or more researching and downloading utilities, but hopefully I can save you some time with this sans-BS guide.
A .264 file is a raw video format used by many DVR’s. They play back on the DVR but to view them on a computer we need to convert them to an appropriate format. This process is also known as transcoding or muxing. This guide is based on Linux Mint, mkvtoolnix/mkvmerge and VLC media player. Those last two are cross-platform so follow along whatever you’re using.
1. Get the video clip of the date/time frame in question. Typically a security DVR will be setup to record only when it detects motion. By searching through the recorded footage, hopefully you can find the clip containing the activity. This file can be copied to your computer via a USB thumb drive or downloaded via the application used to remote view your DVR.
2. Install mkvtoolnix which includes the mkvmerge utility to convert the .264 files into .mkv files. It’s available for Linux, Mac and Windows. Nix users can find it in the Synaptic Package Manager, so you know it’s legit software. It’s also available at:
3. Launch mkvmerge. It’s intuitive to use, just click the ‘add‘ button to specify input files, select an output filename and destination then click ‘Start muxing‘. It’s that easy and why I call it JFDI-ware*.
4. Install the VLC media player. It’s a very good cross-platform media player that handles almost any kind of file and doesn’t require a bunch of extra codec packs. It works on Linux, Mac and Windows. Also JFDI-ware and available at:
5. Play the .mkv file with VLC. Various media players and web browsers will also recognize these files. Note that the .mkv format is an open source multimedia container format, not a compression format. Your .mkv file sizes will be identical to the original .264 files.
6. Edit if needed. Kdenlive is probably the most advanced timeline video editor for Linux and handles .mkv files. Open Shot is also a good timeline video editor for Linux. More on those in a future blog.
7. Upload as desired. Youtube recognizes .mkv files.
8. Transcode if needed. Kdenlive, Open Shot or handbrake can convert .mkv files into any format you need.
9. Burn a CD or DVD. Brasero is a good Open Source Linux application for creating CD’s and DVD’s.
Using these tools, you should be able to deliver a video from your DVR in just about any format needed.
– Kenn Ranous
* mirage-ware: software that appears to be exactly what you need until you try to use it and there’s actually nothing there.
* JFDI-ware: Just F’ing Do It! Tight, intuitive well designed software that just does the job as it should without hosing up the machine.